Album Review: Courtney Barnett Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (Marathon)

Rawkus harmonies

These two unlikely collaborators met when Barnett’s band supported Vile on one of his Australian tours and she told him how much she liked his Smoke Rings for my Halo album. Despite living in different continents they managed to get together in Melbourne to record this album alongside two thirds of Warren Ellis’ Dirty Three; bass player Mick Turner and drummer Jim White, and former Bad Seed Mick Harvey. It seems you can’t away from Nick Cave’s influence in grunge rock circles down under. But Warpaint’s drummer Stella Mozgawa was also involved as was Vile’s regular bass player Rob Laakso, albeit it’s hard to hear where one backing band changes to the other because the voices and guitars are very much the stars of this entertaining album.

Kurt Vile is so languid that you imagine he must be stoned most of the time but that contrasts with a work ethic that has seen him involved with several albums over the last year or two. His fabulous B’lieve I’m Going Down and War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding being the highlights. The quality is maintained on Lotta Sea Lice, a title apparently derived from some in band joke, but it could be a misheard song lyric. Courtney Barnett is not quite as laid back on her own releases but has a similar guitar style and ability to sing interesting songs with a deadpan delivery that’s clearly influenced by Vile. She had international success with several EPs and her first album made number 20 in the US charts, so while the less established of this duo she has climbed the mountain single handedly.

That said Vile’s influence is the stronger on most of the nine songs, the opener and single Over Everything is atypically upbeat, even poppy and has had heavy rotation on radio. It contains a rare admission of tinnitus on record in the line “And I wasn’t carin’ to neuter my jams with earplugs/But these days I inhabitate a high-pitched ring over things”. It’s a jangly guitar fest enlivened duet with some great lines. It ends with a nice guitar thrash from both musicians that repeats throughout the album, and in the case of Fear is Like a Forest turns into a Neil Young and Crazy Horse style work out of glorious noise peppered with lovely harmonies. They aren’t the Carpenters but their voices work together surprisingly well. The yin and yang of the cover artwork is clearly symbolic of the way that Vile and Barnett sync with one another in both sound and attitude.

Lotta Sea Lice sounds pretty good for the genre, the guitars have plenty of bite and the voices come through well, there’s also good use of reverb and echo on certain tracks. More important is that compression is used in a sensible fashion, there’s no excessive punch and loudness unlike certain high profile releases of yet (yes Beck that’s you!). Whether its worth shelling out for the vinyl (black, white or clear) will depend on how much you love the medium but the recording warrants as much resolution as your speakers or headphones can manage, just don’t expect too much polish with the spit.

Jason Kennedy

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